Of in-laws, durian and foie gras (Luzviminda buffet, F All Day Dining, F1 Hotel Manila)

I’ve said this before, and I say it again, it’s difficult for me to be impressed with Filipino food, the primary culprits being my Kapampangan heritage and the amaaazing home cooks I grew up with. Ask Kite what my default answer is when faced with the question “Where do you want to eat?“. Yep, you guessed it right. Most of the times, it’s going to be “Anywhere but Pinoy cuisine please.“.

Now haters, don’t get me wrong. The Philippines offers some of the best cooking in the world, and a lot of great press (from international sources at that) have been accorded to it of late. I looove Filipino food, but, and this is a big BUT, it has to be at a level beyond how my mom or my lolas cooked it. That, or it has to be something new to my palate. If someone I know can make it better than the plated ones you serve before me, well, you can forget about it. (Boom! Such a snob!)

At times though, I encounter restaurants that offer dishes like the one pictured below that make me re-consider:

Repeat after me: foie gras sisig. Deeeeeym.

Foie gras? In sisigIt makes so much sense and is so spot on that you’d ask yourself why you didn’t think of it before. I know I did.

The restaurant behind the genius creation? F All Day Dining at F1 Hotel Manila. Newly revamped and with its offerings overhauled, it is now under the helm of Chef Sau Del Rosario. O ha, huma-high profile. Haha! Kite, fourteen other family members (Talk about being a part of a Filipino family eh? Sooo Pinoy talaga.) and I had dinner there one fine Sunday night to celebrate the mother-in-law’s birthday. Below’s how my second buffet (and the in-laws’ first) of the year fared.

The Interiors

Expectations were high before setting foot at F1, and it didn’t disappoint. It was a relatively new hotel after all and everything was still in tip-top shape. There were even some attention grabbing pieces at the lobby fronting F. As for the restaurant itself, I really dig the good use of space. I believe it’s the first hotel buffet I came across with where I didn’t feel I have to weave in and out to navigate the different stations. There was ample room to move around without bumping into fellow diners too. Seating wise, the window-side tables are the best of the house what with its good view, comfortable shared couches and beautiful solo seats. I recommend staying away from the side farthest the entrance – the bland space looked sad to me.

This grabbed almost everyone’s attention. For me, it was interesting primarily because I don’t think I’ve seen something like it before. But then again, I’m not the furniture connoisseur in the first place.

While most will see this as “Ahh, limited offerings…”, my take on this is “Yey! Space!”

Do yourself a favor and reserve the tables by the windows. If you come in during the time we did, you’d have terrific, romantic, soft lighting. The skyline view at night isn’t that shabby too.

The Spread

Compare the variety of food that F serves to that of Heat or Spiral, and one would easily be disappointed. I’d go out on a limb and say that it is unfair as comparisons go, though. First, F’s is significantly waaay cheaper (by price, that is) compared to the bigger, more established hotel buffets. Second, the quality outweighs and makes up for the lack in quantity, as we soon found out. I’d be screaming my head off (well, not really, but you get the point) if I heard people around me say “Kaunti na nga, di pa masarap“. Fortunately, there was none of that. :-)

Oh! One thing that needs to be mentioned is we feasted on the Luzviminda buffet they have running for the whole of June, the month when the country celebrates its independence from Spain. (That’s today by the way! Happy Independence Day Pilipinas!). The theme carries over from the appetizers, to the mains, and up to the desserts and celebrates Filipino cuisine from the three major regions of the country – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. That being said, I assume the menu will vary come July, so heads up. :-)

A humongous yellow fin (I think) tuna commanding the centerpiece of the salads and appetizers stations. Nice touch!

This one triggered nostalgia. Haven’t seen this dish in a long while! Steamed fish like this, replete with its colorful toppings, used to be a staple in celebrations of the past. Coolio.

Now here’s something you don’t see often (or at all!) at hotel restos: Pinoy candies! I didn’t touch any of this, but it was an inspired addition to the themed buffet.

This too! When’s the last time you saw rambutan and dalanghita served in a restaurant? Never? I thought so too. :-P

The LuzViMin theme carries over to the cheeses as well. Happy to see these varieties which I read have been flown from a cheese farm in Davao.

The Food

Finally, without further ado, presenting the five plates I had that night. I won’t even apologize this time. Long-time readers would know I’ve got the skills to handle buffets like this one, and a cooperative tummy to boot. :-P

Plate 1: Salmon, tuna, mussels, and shrimps

Plate 2: Baked mussels, embutido, and cheese (blue, goat, chevre and puti)

Plate 3: Shrimp and brocolli, bagnet, and foie gras sisig

Plate 4: Kambing sa langka, mahi mahi with tausi, BBQ ribs, and habechuelas

Plate 5: Durian panna cotta and leche flan

The verdict? Congratulations! Way more hits than misses!

1. Foie gras sisig, hands-down, is the star of the night. It is the best sisig I have ever eaten. So sinful, so rich, so umami-filled (minus the MSG I hope), I really fell in love with this dish. A close second would be the habechuelas – the love child of mashed potatoes (for its texture) and pork and beans (well, because it is made of white beans and bacon). Other stand-outs were the fat and juicy mussels (both the steamed and baked ones), plump shrimps (again, both boiled and those mixed in with brocolli) and the tender kambing sa langka (goat stew). Loved all of it!

2. The thumbs down for me came from the bagnet. I think what can be faulted though is the cut I got, and the time the meat has been sitting around. Another thing we sorely missed was the lechon. The buffet would’ve really rocked if that was present.

3. The desserts were a bit polarizing. The leche flan (please stop calling it creme brulee if it doesn’t have a crackly caramel top!) was perfect: thick custard with a lovely mouthfeel and an appropriate level of sweetness that even seniors in the group liked. The durian panna cotta, on the other hand, was a different case. Only Kite and I liked it.  Truth be told, they should’ve called it shooters or shots instead of panna cotta. It was too liquid to be called the latter.

4. Service was fantastic. Two dishes got alternated at one point (chicken inasal and barbecued ribs) and I asked if there were still some left for the one I preferred. The lovely lady not only asked people from the kitchen, she even went out of her way to get some for me on a plate instead of just telling me that yes, it’s sill going to be served later. Good stuff. :-)

Do I think it’s worth the price tag? Considering the novelty of key dishes, the general flavorful-ness (wow, did I just invent a word?) of the food and the fabulous service, I’d say yes. It helps that the in-laws gave their seal of approval as well. Woot! If you’re not sold on the idea of paying for ~1,400.00 PHP for this though (No judgment, I’m stingy too. :-P), you might want to check out Deal Grocer ASAP. They’re offering it at ~900.00 PHP and I am telling you, that is a steal.

***

F1 Hotel Manila
32nd Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Telephone: +632 928 9888, +632 908 7888
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/f1hotelmanila
Twitter: https://twitter.com/F1HotelManila

Of hotel tweets, lamb heaven and expectations (Spiral, Sofitel Plaza Manila)

This year could very well be my year of buffets. I’ve had my fourth just over a week ago people. FOURTH!

Why do I even wonder why I gain weight again? Anyway…

Flashback.

My team at work agreed earlier this year that we shall grab the first group buying deal that will come our way for Spiral. Ensogo announced one and we got a voucher each. Unfortunately, I wasn’t available on the date the group set for us to use them so was I left all alone with one coupon. (I. Know. Right?!?)

Sadness, I thought. Who eats at a buffet alone? So I posted a tweet, which for some fortunate reason, got a response from…

Sobrang sakto lang ng timing. Hahaha! :-)

Amazing what social media can do, really. Right there and then I called up friends I know would say yes  (with some coaxing of course), and on the same night, we secured the Cash Cash Pinoy vouchers. Woot!

Fast forward to the 13th of August, my time at the much hyped buffet of Sofitel Plaza Manila finally came to fruition. Barkada milestone too. Hehehe…

Sofitel is one beautiful space (we checked out the area by the sea and immediately wished we stayed there for the night), and so is Spiral. In my opinion, of all the hotel restaurant buffets I’ve been too, it had the most pleasing layout. The huge sculpture stairway in the middle is one commanding piece of art. The various table arrangements were outstanding too. I loved the round table we had reserved. Makes for a good first meet set-up. :-)

Buffet tip # 1: Scout the entire first place before even assembling your first plate. Having a big picture of what the buffet offers will give you an idea how to navigate the place, how to pace yourself and which food you will be consuming. :-) Here are some snaps of the place before we started dining.

Cold cuts, always a destination for me at buffet spreads...

...and cheeses too!

Triple chocolate fountain. The dark chocolate was goooooood.

Glorious ham.

Sinful prime rib. Look at that pool of grease...

At that point, I was reprimanded by a (security?) staff. He instructed me to stop taking pictures. I was like: SERIOUSLY?!? To myself, of course. I was baffled as that was the first time that happened to me. Was it because I was using a DSLR? I saw a loooot of people taking pictures using their point and shoots. Anyway, I didn’t let that spoil my lovely night. I figured I‘d just take photos of my plates instead.

So, in keeping with tradition, here are the seven plates I feasted on. Again, please don’t judge me. Haha! :-P

Plate 1: Salmon and tuna sashimi, ebi and tako nigiruzushi. First time to eat octopus sushi!

Plate 2: Assorted dumplings, including hakao and scallops.

Plate 3: Black forest and air-dried aged beef, crackers, shrimp cocktails, assorted cheese, dried apricots and walnuts.

Plate 4: Ham, Lyonnaise potatoes, roast beef, grilled lamb and mint sauce. LAAAAAMB! Hands down, best plate of the night.

Plate 5: Shrimp tempura, fresh oysters, and salmon nigiruzushi.

Plate 6: Bailey's creme custard, two versions of panna cotta and blueberry crepe.

Plate 7: Crème brulee, pistachio and espresso ice cream, and fresh pineapples.

 The verdict?

1. Lamb success! The best lamb I’ve ever had in a hotel restaurant buffet, BY A MILE. Tender, medium rare, grilled, with a refreshing mint sauce to boot. We looooooved it. Alen and I had two. Hahaha!

2. The buffet mainstays, like my always present sashimi, shrimp, cheese, and blueberry crepe were good as expected. What stood out aside from the lamb were the tako nigiruzushi (octopus sushi, first time and I liked it!), the dark chocolate fountain (I appreciated that it was more bitter than sweet), the espresso ice cream (the texture was a bit grainy though), and the coffee. Weird for me to mention the coffee no? Haha! That night’s had a hit that felt like one’s being punched in the face. That’s why it’s good. It was so strong, I wasn’t able to finish it. And that, my friends, is unheard of. It was a perfect meal ender.

It's always a good idea to end a buffet with coffee, yes?

3. The three misses of the night were the air-dried aged beef, shrimp tempura and the panna cotta. The cold cut was way too salty for me (and I like salty food na ah), the shrimp tempura was too greasy (even the newly cooked ones), while the panna cotta had the texture that wasn’t anything like what I expected of the said dessert. I was especially bummed by the aged beef since that was the first time I saw it being offered in a buffet spread. And oh! Why no lobster?

4. Apparently, only Ensogo offered the deal with a glass of wine, so the six of us shared one. Hahaha!

Redefining "shared resource". :-P

5. Except for the camera police earlier mentioned, the service staff was very friendly and very attentive. I really appreciate the simple things like not having to ask for your glass of water to be refilled. They always seem to know when ours needed refilling. Plus points for that.

I’ve heard a lot of buzz – the title best buffet in town being one of them – prior to that night at Sofitel Plaza Manila’s Spiral so I really had high expectations. Were they met? To be honest, I’m not sure. Though we loved the food, and the selection was great, I was hoping for more mind-blowing moments like the one we had with the lamb. I found the selection lacking in the “food items you won’t find elsewhere” department too. Now don’t get me wrong, Spiral was amazing. It’s just that, maybe, the hype got to me first, before I was actually able to experience it.

How about a deal for an overnight stay here next time? Woot!

My fourth buffet experience of the year was memorable nonetheless, a huge part of which was attributed to the company I had that night. With that, I think my next one will be in 2012 na. The question is: am I going to eat these words soon? Read: Circles. :-)

Of member for a day cards, healthy eats and amazing tastes (HEAT, EDSA Shang-ri La Hotel)

Around this time last year, I was talking to A about where to take H for Valentine’s. At the end of that discussion, he recommended that we try out one of any of the posh restaurants at EDSA Shang. He also offered to give me a favor: a member for a day card. (I know, I know. I have had the greatest of luck when it comes to managers…)

As fate would have it, H and I spent the 14th of February that year at Van Gogh is Bipolar. The card went unnoticed and untouched until before last year ended when I was cleaning my room. I guess that’s what one would call perfect timing: the card was set to expire January 15, 2011. Fast forward to a couple of nights ago: January 14. Barely a day before the card expires, we finally got to use it.

Whew!

I had decided to revisit HEAT for a couple of reasons. First, I had been to HEAT April of 2009, again thanks to a lunch treat by A for the then SMB-Ops extended leadership team, and had a blast. I wanted to re-live that experience. Second, I haven’t been to a buffet with H yet. I was excited to see how she would fare, given that she was a light eater. Third, unlike the set menus of Paparazzi, Senju and Summer Palace, the spread of HEAT would allow me to test the restraint I needed for Project WBW.

(Author’s note: I figured a photo rundown of my six – yes, 6 – plates would suffice. A detailed review per plate wouldn’t make too much of a sense. Apologies too for the image quality. My Samsam fails me when ambient lighting isn’t enough. Enjoy the visual feast, though! The highs and lows of that dinner after the photos. )

Plate 1: Fresh salmon, pastrami, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, cheese (Forgot to check what type. Can you tell based from the picture?)

Freebies and drinks: Mighty, Dax, (Get it? Get it? :)) and overpriced drink of the night (mango melon smoothie)

Plate 2: Seafood lovin'! Lobster, fresh oysters, tiger prawns

Plate 3: Tuna and squid nigurizushi, tuna sashimi (no salmon sashimi too! :(), maki that had something crispy in it (probably eel), chicken barbecue skewer, crabstick, lettuce and mango wrapped in cucumber, some sort of terrine or meatloaf

Plate 4: Thai lemon grass, shrimp and cashew salad (winner!), shrimp siomai (oddly gelatinous but had lots of shrimp in it), Waldorf salad

Plate 5: Death by sugar! Blueberry crepe topped with walnut studded vanilla ice cream and strawberry syrup

Plate 6: Lemon tart, fruits in season tart, orange wedges, fruit cheesecake (eeky wet and crumbly texture, but tasted good))

1. The revelation of the night was the Thai lemon grass salad. It was like yin and yang: heat was aplenty but it was balanced by the cold temperature the dish had. I would’ve taken seconds – even thirds! – if it hadn’t been my fourth plate already. I plan on recreating this one of these days. Runner-up: the lemon custard topped with a light meringue. Light, citrus-y and tart. Yum!

2. The two biggest disappointments of the night were because of failed expectations. First: there was no lamb! Can you imagine a buffet without lamb?!? Seriously?!? Not even mutton! That was single-handedly the part of HEAT I was anticipating the most that night. Such a downer. Second: the dimsum was “meh. I had high hopes for this since A pointed out HEAT had good ones. The siomai I had, though not really bad, was just lackluster. I’ve tasted better ones.

3. We were lucky to have had two specials that night. It was the usual seafood Friday (The shellfish was loooooove… Fresh and plenty and sweet and cold and awesome and I would’ve had more but I feared for my cholesterol levels…) and there was also a Thai food festival going on (a large part of the spread was dedicated to Thai cuisine. I wish I had tried more but I was full already when we were exploring that side of the buffet.).

4. I committed one amateur buffet eater mistake: I had soup. To my credit, I was really hoping it would be a good one. It was seafood chowder. I am a huge fan of seafood chowder so I figured it would be worth the tummy space. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It didn’t have the consistency (read: über chunky) I preferred. It wasn’t seafood-y enough for me too. *sighs*

5. Project WBW win! Well, almost. See, the only meat I had was a serving of duck and a couple of slices of cold cuts. You have to give me credit for that. A big, big miss on the desserts, though. Again, like two years ago, I had two dessert plates. (Blueberry crepe that was more blueberry than crepe. That crepe was almost 80% blueberry by volume. Nomnomnom…) No regrets here.

6. If you were wondering where H’s plates are, well, I didn’t take pictures of them. They weren’t pretty enough. She needs to practice the art of food placement first. Hehe. In any case, aside from those similar to above, the memorable dishes that she had were a terrific baked salmon, grilled fish from the Thai selection that was a bit itchy to the tongue, and a hearty beef stew.

Double whew!

Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway. Hehe.), after that dinner, we were sooooo full. We got reminded of why buffet meals don’t happen every day. It is definitely an indulgence.

So when’s the next indulgence? Spiral, anyone? :)

***

EDSA Shang-ri La Hotel
Phone:(63 2) 633 8888 ext. 2738/2739
Hours: 6am – 12 midnight, Sunday to Thursday (until 2am on weekends)
Location: Level 1
Dress Code: Smart casual
Smoking Policy: HEAT accommodates both smokers and non-smokers.
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